Monday, December 31, 2007

1907: first New Year's ball
dropped in Times Square

Revelers began celebrating New Year's Eve in New York City's Times Square as early as 1904, but it was in 1907 that the New Year's Eve ball made its maiden descent from the flagpole atop One Times Square. This original ball, constructed of iron and wood and adorned with 100 25-watt light bulbs, was 5 feet in diameter and weighed 700 pounds.

In 1920, a 400-pound ball made entirely of iron replaced the original.

The ball has been lowered every year since 1907, with the exceptions of 1942 and 1943, when its use was suspended due to the wartime "dimout" of lights in New York City. The crowds who still gathered in Times Square in those years greeted the New Year with a moment of silence followed by chimes.

In 1955, the iron ball was replaced with an aluminum ball weighing a mere 150 pounds. This aluminum Ball remained unchanged until the 1980s, when red light bulbs and the addition of a green stem converted the Ball into an apple for the "I Love New York" marketing campaign from 1981 until 1988.

After seven years, the traditional ball with white light bulbs and without the green stem returned to brightly light the sky above Times Square. In 1995, the ball was upgraded with aluminum skin, rhinestones, strobes, and computer controls, but the aluminum ball was lowered for the last time in 1998.

For Times Square 2000, the millennium celebration, the New Year's Eve ball was completely redesigned by Waterford Crystal. The new crystal ball combined the latest technology with traditional materials, at the end and beginning of a

The 2000 ball was a geodesic sphere, six feet in diameter, and weighed approximately 1,070 pounds. It was covered with a total of 504 Waterford crystal triangles that varied in size.

For the 2007 New Year's Eve celebration, 72 of the crystal triangles featured the new "Hope for Peace" design, consisting of three dove-like patterns symbolizing messengers of peace. The remaining 432 triangles featured Waterford designs from previous years.

These crystal triangles were bolted to 168 translucent triangular lexan panels which were attached to the aluminum frame of the Ball. The Times Square New Year's Eve ball is celebrating its centennial by going green, with 9,576 energy-efficient bulbs that use about the same amount of electricity as 10 toasters.

Philips Lighting, which created the LED bulbs specifically for the event, says they are smaller but more than twice as bright as last year's lights, which were a mix of more than 600 incandescent and halogen bulbs. And the new lights can create more than 16 million colors for a kaleidoscope of hues against the 672 Waterford Crystal triangles.

All 696 lights and 90 rotating pyramid mirrors are computer controlled, enabling the ball to produce a state-of-the-art light show of eye-dazzling color patterns and a spectacular kaleidoscope effect atop One Times Square.

2008 year marks the 100th birthday of the New Year’s Eve Ball. The new Times Square New Year’s Eve ball is more than twice as bright as the old one, with enhanced color capabilities and state-of-the-art LED lighting effects. Waterford Crystal crafted a new design for the crystal triangles on the ball. Philips Lighting provided new solid state lighting technology that substantially increased the brightness, energy efficiency, and color capabilities. Focus Lighting developed a unique lighting design.

The actual notion of a ball "dropping" to signal the passage of time dates back long before New Year's Eve was ever celebrated in Times Square. The first known "time ball" was installed atop England's Royal Observatory at Greenwich in 1833. This ball would drop at one o'clock every afternoon, allowing the captains of nearby ships to precisely set their chronometers.

Around 150 public time balls are believed to have been installed around the world after the success at Greenwich, though few survive and still work. The tradition is carried on today in places like the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, DC, where a time ball descends from a flagpole at noon each day; and of course, once a year in Times Square, where it marks the stroke of midnight, not for ships' captains, but for over one billion people watching worldwide. (info from the Times Square Alliance & The Associated Press)

Friday, December 28, 2007

1762: dedication of Touro Synagogue

Newport's Touro Synagogue, dedicated in 1762, is the oldest synagogue (Jewish house of worship) in the United States and the only one that survives from the colonial era.

It was designed by noted architect Peter Harrison, and is considered his best work. The interior has balconies supported by twelve Ionic columns, which signify the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. Each column is carved from a single tree. Located at 85 Touro Street, the building is oriented to face towards Jerusalem.

The Touro Synagogue was built for the Jeshuat Israel congregation, and named to honor Isaac Touro, its cantor (prayer leader).

The congregation was founded in 1658 by descendants of Jews who fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal and who were themselves seeking a haven from religious persecution in the Caribbean. They came to the the Colony of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations because of the assurance of freedom of religion and liberty of conscience promised by Roger Williams to all who came within its borders

When the British captured Newport in 1776 and shut down the maritime trades, most Jews left. The synagogue became a hospital for British troops until the French liberated the city. In 1781, George Washington met Generals Lafayette and Rochembeau in Newport to plan the final battles of the Revolution. It was on that visit, that General Washington attended a town meeting in the synagogue.

In 1790, members of the synagogue wrote a letter to President Washington, expressing their good wishes, and asking his views on their continued peaceful existence in Newport.

Washington replied in a letter that, "happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."

With this statement, Washington set the standard for religious freedom and civil liberties in America.

The city of Newport faded in importance shortly after American indepence when the capital of Rhode Island moved to Providence, which rapidly surpassed Newport as a seaport. The Jewish community, too small to maintain a synagogue, gave the keys and deed to the building to Congregation Shearith Israel in New York, which still formally owns the Touro synagogue. Jewish life in Newport revived with the late nineteenth century immigration of eastern European Jews to the Unites States.

Judah Touro, son of the synagogue's eighteenth century cantor, Isaac Touro, made a fortune as a merchant in New Orleans and left $10,000 in his will for the upkeep of the Jewish cemetery and synagogue in Newport.

In 1946, the Touro Synagogue was designated a National Historic Site. Today, it continues to serve an active congregation.

CLICK for the Touro Synagogue Foundation's website. (info from National Park Service & Wikipedia)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

1967: interracial marriage legal in all states

Southern colonies outlawed interracial marriage in the 1690's. Wyoming was the last state to prohibit it, in 1913. It joined 41 other states, every state where the black population reached 5 percent.

Though some states had repealed their anti-miscegenation laws before the Civil War, 16 still had them by the time the US Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional in 1967. (info from The New York Times; photo of O. J. Simpson and wife/alleged murder victim Nicole Brown Simpson from

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

12/24/07: first 2007 Christmas gift returned

The first reported return of a Christmas gift this year occurred at 6:43 PM on December 24 at L. L. Bean in Freeport, Maine.

Wayne Lurie, of nearby Brunswick, Maine, received a pair of fleece-lined leather slippers from his wife, Bethany, early on Christmas Eve. Lurie already had a pair purchased several years earlier that were still in good condition, so he exchanged the new slippers for a sweater.

The L. L. Bean store in Freeport never closes. Other Bean stores around the country have more limited hours. CLICK for more.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

1889: first Christmas tree in the White House

The tradition of a placing a decorated tree in the White House began in 1889 on Christmas morning during the Presidency of Benjamin Harrison.

The President's grandchildren, Benjamin and Mary McKee, led the Harrison household into the second floor Oval Room to view the tree, which was lit with candles. Stockings hung from the mantel, and presents were distributed to family and staff. President Harrison gave turkeys and gloves to his employees, and he received a silver-dollar-shaped picture holder from his daughter, Mame Harrison McKee.

What began as a family gathering has become a national tradition. Over the years, the White House tree has reflected both the times and the tastes of the First Family. In 1895 First Lady Frances Cleveland was the first to use electric lights on the White House tree. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of Christmas Tree themes when she decorated the 1961 Christmas tree in toy trimmings from the Nutcracker Suite ballet by Tchaikovsky.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Read "Silent Night"--
a Christmas story with sex,
drugs, rock-n-roll, and murder.

Read "Silent Night" -- a Christmas story with sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, and murder.

Friday, December 21, 2007

1908: first death in a airplane crash

By 1908, just five years since Orville and Wilbur Wright made their famous flight at Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers were traveling across the US and Europe to demonstrate their flying machine.

Everything went well until September 17, a day that began with a cheering crowd of 2,000 and ended with pilot Orville Wright severely injured and passenger Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge dead.

Orville Wright had taken his first official passenger, Lt. Frank P. Lahm, into the air on September 10 at Fort Myer, Virginia. Two days later, Orville took another passenger, Major George O. Squier, up in the Flyer for nine minutes.

These flights were part of an exhibition for the US Army. The Army was considering purchasing the Wrights' aircraft for military use. To get the contract, Orville had to prove that the airplane could successfully carry passengers.

Selfridge volunteered to be a passenger. A member of the Aerial Experiment Association (an organization headed by Alexander Graham Bell and in direct competition with the Wrights), Selfridge was also on the Army board that was assessing the Wrights' Flyer.

Selfridge was the Wrights' heaviest passenger thus far, weighing 175 pounds. Once the propellers were turned, Selfridge waved to the crowd, weights were dropped and the airplane was off.

Orville was keeping it very simple and had successfully flown three laps over the parade ground at an altitude of about 150 feet.

Then Orville heard light tapping. He turned and quickly looked behind him, but he didn't see anything wrong. Just to be safe, Orville thought he should turn off the engine and glide to the ground; but before he could shut off the engine, he heard "two big thumps, which gave the machine a terrible shaking."

The machine would not respond to the steering and lateral balancing levers. Something flew off the airplane. (It was later discovered to be a propeller.) Then the airplane suddenly veered right. Orville couldn't get the machine to respond. He shut off the engine, and kept trying to regain control of the airplane. The airplane was about 75 feet in the air when it started a nose-dive to the ground.
Orville was not able to regain control. The Flyer hit the ground hard.

Orville and Selfridge were both pinned in the wreckage. They were able to disentangle Orville first. He was bloody, but conscious. It was harder to get Selfridge out. He too was bloody and had an injury to his head, and was unconscious.

The two men were taken by stretcher to the nearby post hospital. Doctors operated on Selfridge, but he died from a fractured skull, without ever regaining consciousness. Orville suffered a broken leg, several broken ribs, cuts on his head, and many bruises.

Thomas Selfridge was buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. He was the first man to die in an airplane.

Orville Wright was released from the Army hospital on October 31. Though he would walk and fly again, he continued to suffer from fractures in his hip that had gone unnoticed at the time. Orville later determined that the crash was caused by a stress crack in the propeller. The Wrights soon redesigned the Flyer to eliminate the flaws that led to this accident. (info from

Thursday, December 20, 2007

2006: tattooing is legal in all 50 states

On November 1 of last year, tattooing became legal in Oklahoma, as in every other state in the United States.

"Regardless of one's personal views about tattoos, the plain fact is that tattooing is prevalent," Governor Brad Henry said. "Public health experts say that tattooing must be regulated if we are to help guard against health hazards that might arise from shoddy practices."

State Senator Frank Shurden, author of the new law, said it was intended to preserve the health of Oklahomans. "I'm not planning to get a tattoo myself, but if you want one, Oklahomans should be able to get one in a safe environment and not have to go to Texas." (info from The Oklahoma City Journal Record, photo from The

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

1859: first escalator

An escalator is a moving staircase with steps that move up or down using a conveyor belt and tracks that keep the steps horizontal, and is common in airports, train stations, hotels and department stores.

However, it was initially intended to provide fun, not transport. The first patent relating to an escalator-like machine was granted in 1859 to Jesse Reno for a steam-powered moving stairway or "inclined elevator." In 1895, Reno created a novelty ride at Coney Island from his design, and he founded the Reno Electric Stairways and Conveyors company in 1902.

The escalator as we know it was later re-designed by Charles Seeberger in 1897, who created the name "escalator" from the word "scala," which is Latin for steps and the word "elevator," which had already been invented.

Seeberger worked with the Otis Elevator Company to produce the first commercial escalator in 1899 at the Otis factory in Yonkers, NY. The Seeberger-Otis wooden escalator won first prize at the Paris 1900 Exposition Universelle in France.

Charles Seeberger sold his patent rights for the escalator to the Otis Elevator Company in 1910. Otis also bought Jesse Reno's escalator patent in 1911.

In the 1920s, Otis engineers combined and improved the Jesse Reno and Charles Seeberger escalator designs, and created the cleated, level steps of the modern escalator in use today. Over the years, Otis dominated the escalator business, but lost the product's trademark. The word escalator lost its proprietary status and its capital "e" in 1950 when the US Patent Office ruled that the word "escalator" had become just a common descriptive term for moving stairways." (info from Otis and

Download escalator history & technology brochure from Otis

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

1928: first woman flies across the Atlantic

Amelia Earhart was the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by airplane. She was part of a three-person crew which flew from Nova Scotia to Wales on June 18, 1928.

Earhart was mostly a passenger. Her co-pilots Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon operated the plane, but were largely ignored in the hubbub over Earhart's accomplishment. Her book about the flight, 20 Hours, 40 Minutes, was a bestseller.

Four years later, on May 20, 1932, Earhart flew alone from Newfoundland to Ireland, becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. (Charles Lindbergh was the first man to do it, having soloed in 1927.) In 1937 Earhart disappeared while attempting yet another first: to become the first pilot to fly around the world at the equator.

Four years after Earhart's solo flight, Beryl Markham became the first person to fly the Atlantic from east to west, against the prevailing winds. Markham was an accomplished bush pilot who had grown up and learned to fly in Kenya. She departed from London on September 4, 1936, headed for New York, and crash-landed the next day in a peat bog in Nova Scotia. (info from, photo from

Monday, December 17, 2007

1935: first parking meter

Carl C. Magee, of Oklahoma filed for a patent for a "coin controlled parking meter" on May 13, 1935, and the patent was issued on May 24, 1938.

The first parking meter installed was in Oklahoma City, on July 16, 1935. Magee had been appointed to the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce traffic committee, and was assigned the task of solving a downtown parking problem. People who worked in the area were parking all day on downtown streets, leaving few spaces for shoppers and visitors.

Magee's solution was to install parking meters, charge for the use of the parking spaces, and turn over those spaces that would otherwise have been filled by all day parkers. In addition, the parking meters would generate revenue for the city.

The idea of metered parking caught on worldwide in other municipalities, plus colleges, transportation terminals and private parking facilities. In the United States alone, there are an estimated five million parking meters in use, collecting many millions of dollars.

The early parking meters were totally mechanical (as are many even today). The meters were powered by a clock-type mainspring, which required periodic winding. There were two general approaches to accomplishing this: automatic and manual.

With an automatic meter, the patron merely inserts the required coin and the mechanism moves the "time remaining" indicator to the appropriate location, and starts the timing mechanism. While this is convenient for the patron, it requires parking meter maintenance personnel to periodically walk the streets winding parking meters.

In a manual meter, winding is accomplished by the patron turning a handle after a coin is inserted. Since the meter only needs to run long enough for the current patron's time to expire (a few hours, at most), the mainspring can be made smaller and runs down much faster. In addition, the employees' hours required to wind parking meters can be eliminated which, in turn, reduces overhead costs and increases the net revenues to the meter owner.

As parking meters became more and more common, criminals discovered that each one could contain a pile of money, It was relatively easy to break into a parking meter and parking meter burglaries were common. This lead to security improvements, and by the mid 1960's most meters were available with armored coin boxes.

Although many cities were able to reduce their personnel costs by using manual parking meters, the money still had to be collected from the meters on a regular basis, and this required manpower. So did installing posts upon which to mount the meters. Occasionally those posts got hit by a car, and had to be straightened or replaced. And for every metered parking space, there were one post and one meter.

Manufacturers came up with a way to reduce their customers' costs, and thus further improve their revenues: the dual head parking meter.

Except for some end spaces on a block, the number of posts and meters could be cut in half, reducing labor costs in several ways: The number of posts and meters that had to be installed was reduced; the number of targets for wayward vehicles was reduced; and each dual head meter served two spaces but had only one coin box from which to collect, which reduced the time required to collect the money.

While there have been a number of improvements in mechanical parking meters over the years, and there are probably hundreds of thousands such meters still in use, the introduction of electronic parking meters was a quantum leap in technology.

Some of the latest offerings in electronic meters provide for on-board data storage and transfer to central databases for later analysis. Data includes information such as the amount of money a meter has collected, coin counts, meter usage patterns, violation information, etc.

A few models have proximity sensors which clear the time on a meter when a vehicle vacates its parking space, thus preventing drivers from parking on someone else's remaining time. At least one manufacturer offers a meter that takes a photograph of vehicles that are still parked after time has expired.

While most new features serve only the interests of the meters' owners, a few meters are actually "driver friendly." Some accept prepaid parking cards, and if a driver returns before his time has expired, the card can be reinserted in the meter for a refund of the value of remaining time.

Some parking meters are not parking meters in the traditional sense. They are automated payment centers that dispense a receipt which the patron displays on the dashboard. Such "pay and display" systems serve a number of parking spaces with a single unit, reducing sidewalk clutter and personnel costs associated with meter maintenance and cash collection.

(Info & photo from Ron Luttrell II. Photo shows Ron Luttrell Sr. collecting coins from a parking meter opposite Oklahoma City's City Hall in the late 1960s.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

1999: bagel becomes mainstream. You can even get it with (GASP) ham or sausage

On April 23, 1999, after months of testing, McDonald's officially unveiled three new bagel breakfast sandwiches in 6,000 stores across the Midwest and Northeast.

Ana Madan-Russo, president of McDonald's New York Tri-State Owners and Operators association, said franchise owners are excited about selling bagel sandwiches in New York City, ''the bagel capital of the world.''

Bagel maven Eli Zabar dismissed the McDonalds bagel as “Wonder bread in a circle. A New York bagel fights with you. It's tough on the outside, and chewy on the inside, and you struggle with it." He noted the telltale signs, "the wimpy crust and the soft inside that pulls apart without a fight," while dissecting a McDonald's steak, egg and cheese bagel in Eli's, his market on the Upper East Side. A true bagel, he asserted, must be boiled, then baked to achieve authenticity. "This one," he said, "has been steamed, not boiled."

Elena Ramos, marketing director for McDonald's in New York, dismissed as irrelevant whether McDonald's bagels are steamed or boiled, or treated with any special preservatives. "I'm not sure if the customers buying them up get into all that," she said. In addition to the steak bagel, McDonald's has offered a Spanish omelet bagel, one with ham, egg and cheese, and one with sausage, egg and cheese. You can even get them in England.

Ed Levine, author of New York Eats (More), bemoaned the McDonald's bagel invasion as "a scary proposition."

"It seems to be that this is the logical extension of the commoditization of bagels," he said. "A bagel used to have character. Now anything that's vaguely round, that's puffed up with a hole in it, can be called a bagel. I knew this was coming."

He worries that in the age of fast food chains and relentless mass marketing, McDonald's $2.49 bagel sandwiches will ever so gradually diminish a durable New York icon. "I'm nostalgic, but many people will taste McDonald bagels and think they're fine," he says. "They've made the bagel into a neutral food. They used to be made with malt and have a crust. Now even many New Yorkers don't want their bagels with a crust."

A skeptic might ask whether the Big Apple has any proprietary rights to the bagel. New York, after all, didn't invent the bagel. According to one popular legend, that honor dates to 1683, when some Viennese bakers cooked up a few in tribute to Jan Sobieski, the King of Poland. Bagels made their way to New York in the early part of this century with Eastern European Jewish immigrants.

Now the bagel is everywhere. In Canada, Toronto holds a weekly Bagel Bash. Mattoon, IL., sponsors Bagelfest! In Boston, there's a New Year's Eve Bagel-Off.

Some of New York's most established bagel makers have done their share to spread bagels to the masses. H & H Bagels on Broadway at 80th Street supplied bagels to Dunkin' Donuts before they started baking their own McDonalds-style mushy bagels. (info from The New York Times)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

2007: DVD sales decline

The DVD businesses, one of the movie industry's biggest sources of profits, is expected to post a year-over-year sales decline for the first time since the format's rise a decade ago. Sales, which were flat a year ago at around $16 billion, were down over 4% through the end of November, and analysts expect a full-year drop of around 2%.

Total home video revenues, which include sales and rentals of both DVD and VHS, are forecasted at around $23 billion, down from $24 billion in 2006.

Even though the industry still has a number of heavy hitters on the way, including the latest installments of Pirates of the Caribbean, Bourne and Harry Potter, and the film adaptation of The Simpsons, they would have to power a big surge in total DVD unit sales just to break even with last year.

Even big box office hits aren't an automatic slam-dunk on DVD. Analyst Alan Gould, notes that DVD sales for latest sequels in the Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Shrek franchises, all fourth quarter releases, have come up short.

"Blockbuster films are generating fewer DVD unit sales than in previous cycles," he said. "Where a big picture used to sell 20 million units, top movies now struggle to reach 10 million units." He estimates that Spider-Man 3 will sell fewer than 5 million units. The last installment sold 5 million on its first day.

While theatrical distribution generates the biggest gross revenue for movie studios, DVD sales make the most money. That's because box office receipts are split evenly with movie theater operators, while studios keep all the revenue from DVD sales.

The DVD drop isn't unexpected. Some analysts at the end of last year were forecasting a 2007 decline due to saturation, advances in technology like video-on-demand, Internet downloading, and growing competition from video games and other entertainment. (info from The New York Post)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

1984: first female major party candidate
for US vice-presidency

Geraldine Anne Ferraro (born 1935) is a Democratic politician and former member of the US House of Representatives. She is best known as the first and only woman to date to represent a major US political party as a candidate for Vice President. Ferraro and running mate Walter Mondale were defeated in a landslide by incumbent President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush in the 1984 election. She was later appointed as an ambassador to the United Nations and is currently a businesswoman.

Ferraro was elected to the House of Representatives from New York's Ninth Congressional District in Queens in 1978 and served three two-year terms, compiling a generally liberal voting record on social and economic issues. While in Congress she served on the Public Works Committee, the Budget Committee, and the Post Office Committee. She also served a term as the Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus, the first woman in that position. She was the Chairwoman of the Platform Committee for the 1984 Democratic National Convention.

Ferraro was seen as someone with a bright political future; she was even speculated to run for president or vice president, however she did not win the general election. Any speculation about a potential rise to the Speakership was stomped out when she did not return to the House after her White House run. Ferraro was a potential Senate candidate, and ran twice, losing extremely close primary races. However, she won an ambassadorship to the United Nations during the presidential administration of Bill Clinton.

Mondale selected Geraldine Ferraro to be his Vice Presidential candidate on July 12th of 1984. Mondale made his decision after interviewing several candidates, including Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, Kentucky Governor Martha Layne Collins, and Senator Lloyd Bentsen.

At the time, the choice of Ferraro was viewed as a gamble, and pundits were uncertain if the choice would gain or lose more votes for the Mondale campaign. In her acceptance speech upon being chosen Mondale's running mate, Ferraro said, "The daughter of an immigrant from Italy has been chosen to run for vice president in the new land my father came to love."

Prior to choosing a running mate, Mondale was 16 points behind Reagan. After choosing Ferraro, the score went even. Her popularity helped Mondale, but eventually he dipped in the polls once more. Ferraro was quite popular and could easily match Bush in polls, however Mondale was less liked. Mondale was previously the Vice President under Jimmy Carter.

As a Catholic, Ferraro came under fire from the Catholic Church for being pro-choice, a position in conflict with doctrine. She strongly defended her position at the debate, which earned her rapturous applause and even admiration from her opponent.

Mondale's campaign was already far behind the Republican ticket when Ferraro joined the ticket, and one issue that hurt her credibility was her disclosure of her husband's tax returns.

In July 1984, she said she would release both her and her husband's tax returns. Yet a month later she backtracked and said she would release only her returns. Then she backtracked again, saying her husband would release "a financial — a tax statement" on August 20. But she must not have consulted her husband, because he initially refused. To her astonishment, news surfaced that when she was a baby both parents had been under federal criminal indictment for gambling; the charges were dropped when her father died. After the election the House Ethics Committee officially criticized her mishandling of campaign finances.

There was only one Vice Presidential debate between Congresswoman Ferraro and Vice President Bush, which was proclaimed mostly neutral by the press. Ferraro's experience was questioned at the debate and she was asked how her three terms in congress stacked up with Bush's experience (two House terms, career as an ambassador to China and the United Nations, CIA Director, and four years as Vice President).

“Well, let me first say that I wasn't born at the age of forty-three when I entered Congress. I did have a life before that as well. I was a prosecutor for almost five years in the district attorney's office in Queens County and I was a teacher."

Barbara Bush, when asked what she thought of Ferraro, said she could respond, however, the word she was thinking of rhymes with "rich." Later that evening Mrs. Bush called Ferraro to apologize for allegedly calling her a "witch". Ferraro mentioned this in an article she wrote about Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in a December 25, 2006 – January 1, 2007 issue of Newsweek.

Post-election polls found that the majority of female voters voted against her, turning instead to re-elect Reagan and Bush. However, most women had also voted against her because of her running mate. It is speculated that a stronger presidential candidate may have made Ferraro vice-president, for she was quite well-liked among many women, even Republicans.

It should be noted that although Ferraro was the first woman to be on a major-party ticket for one of the nation's two highest offices, she was not the first woman to receive an electoral vote. That woman was Theodora Nathan, a Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate who got the support of Roger MacBride, a Virginia elector who in 1972 voted for her instead of the pledged Spiro Agnew. However, Rep. Ferraro was the first woman to receive more than one electoral vote.

She published an autobiography, Ferraro: My Story, in 1985, and in 1992 ran unsuccessfully for Democratic nomination for a New York seat in the US Senate. She finished second in the heated primary behind State Attorney General Robert Abrams. She placed ahead of Rev. Al Sharpton and New York City Comptroller and former congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman in the primary. She has said that if she had not run for Vice President, she would have sought the Senate seat in 1986.

In 1993 President Bill Clinton appointed Ferraro ambassador to the United Nations Committee on Human Rights.

From 1996 to 1998, she was cohost on Crossfire, a political commentary show on CNN. She continues to provide political commentary as a guest on national television news programs.

In 1998, Ferraro ran for the Senate again. She started off as the frontrunner for the nomination but lost ground in the late summer months. She finished second behind Congressman Charles Schumer and placed ahead of New York City Public Advocate Mark J. Green. Schumer went on to defeat D'Amato in the general election.

Ferraro served as president of G&L Strategies, a management consulting firm, and is now a senior managing director of the Global Consulting Group, a corporate public relations firm. In 1998, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, the second-most common form of blood cancer after leukemia. She has become an avid supporter of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. She is an honorary board member of the National Organization of Italian American Women. She joined Blank Rome Government Relations LLC as a principal on February 1, 2007.

In Newsweek she announced her support for presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. In the article, entitled "What We Learned the Hard Way," she thanked Walter Mondale for taking down the "Men Only" sign from the White House. She compared his selecting her as a running mate to Roman Catholic Al Smith's running for president in 1928 and opening the door for Catholic John F. Kennedy in 1960. (info from Wikipedia)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

1972: security guard detects
Watergate break-in

On the night of June 17, 1972, security guard Frank Wills was making his rounds at the Watergate office building in Washington, D.C, when he noticed a piece of electrical tape placed over the latch of one of the exit doors.

At first, he did not think much of it, as workers often jammed the door with chairs or stones, or anything else that would allow them to easily re-enter the building.

Wills removed the tape and continued his rounds; but he became suspicious when he noticed someone had replaced the tape. He called the police -- an act that would begin the unraveling of one of the biggest political debacles in American history: the burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters by five men working for the Republican Party, and the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Wills became an instant celebrity, but was unable to use his newly found status to negotiate a raise or a few extra vacation days. He quit his security job, but failed at attempts to launch a public speaking career and to work in public relations.

The Democratic National Convention and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference bestowed honors on Wills, and he played himself in the movie All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s account of Watergate.

He found it difficult to hold a steady job, and was convicted of shoplifting in 1983. In 1990 Wills returned home to South Carolina to care for his mother, and they both subsisted on her $450 monthly Social Security check and a little money he made doing odd jobs. He was so destitute, that when his mother died in 1993, he donated her body to science because he did not have the money to bury her.

Others have made millions on movies, books, and speaking engagements from the Watergate burglary that Willis detected, but he died penniless, from a brain tumor in 2000, at the age of 52. For most of his life he lived in poverty, and at the end he could not even afford to pay for electricity. (info and photo from Security Magazine)

Monday, December 10, 2007

1982: Michael Jackson's Thriller released

Michael Jackson's Thriller, released on December 1, 1982, is his most popular album, and made him an international star.

From the distance of a quarter-century, the release of Thriller looks like one of the most significant events in popular-music history. It is the record that ended commercial pop radio's de facto apartheid, that ushered in the modern music-video era, and that turned a former kiddie star into a new generation's equivalent of Elvis and the Beatles.

Thriller's huge sales may well represent the last great moment of pop consensus. At a time of intense musical fragmentation, it's intriguing to remember a record that seemed to capture everyone: blacks, whites, grade-schoolers, teens, college students, parents and grandparents.

According to Guinness World of Records, Thriller has worldwide sales over 104 million, making it by far the best selling album of all time. It's also notable for being one of only three albums to remain in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 for one full year, spending 80 consecutive weeks in the top 10, 37 of which were at number one.

In 2007, the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ranked Thriller third on their "Definitive 200" list, a compilation of what they believed to be the greatest albums ever.

Thriller is also the first album of only three in history to produce seven Billboard top-ten singles, and the first and so far only album to be the best-selling album of two years (1983 and 1984) in the US. The album continues to sell an estimated 60,000 units in the US each year.

In February 1984, Jackson was nominated for twelve Grammy Awards — of which he won eight — breaking the record for the most Grammy Awards won in a single year. Seven were for Thriller and the other for the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial storybook. The most important in terms of record sales was the Grammy for Album of the Year, which was awarded for Thriller. That same year, Jackson also won eight American Music Awards and the "Special Award of Merit" and three MTV Video Music Awards.

The New York Times called Jackson at age 25, a "musical phenomenon," further commenting that "in the world of pop music, there is Michael Jackson and there is everybody else." Time magazine explained that "the fallout from Thriller has given the [music] business its best years since the heady days of 1978, when it had an estimated total domestic revenue of $4.1 billion." Thriller also helped to bring music from African-American artists back into mainstream radio for the first time since the mid-1970s.

Thriller's milestone will officially be celebrated in February with a 25th anniversary edition of the album, featuring unreleased tracks, DVD goodies (including Jackson's amazing performance of "Billie Jean" on the Motown 25 television special), and remixes by Kanye West and, among others. (info from Slate & Wilipedia)

Friday, December 7, 2007

1941: Japanese attack Pearl Harbor

Sixty-six years ago today, the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was one of the great defining moments in history. A single carefully-planned and well-executed stroke removed the United States Navy's battleship force as a possible threat to the Japanese Empire's southward expansion. America, unprepared and now considerably weakened, was abruptly brought into the Second World War as a full combatant.

Eighteen months earlier, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had transferred the United States Fleet to Pearl Harbor as a presumed deterrent to Japanese aggression. The Japanese military, deeply engaged in the seemingly endless war it had started against China in mid-1937, badly needed oil and other raw materials. Commercial access to these was gradually curtailed as the conquests continued. In July 1941 the Western powers effectively halted trade with Japan. From then on, as the desperate Japanese schemed to seize the oil and mineral-rich East Indies and Southeast Asia, a Pacific war was virtually inevitable.

By late November 1941, with peace negotiations clearly approaching an end, informed US officials (and they were well-informed, they believed, through an ability to read Japan's diplomatic codes) fully expected a Japanese attack into the Indies, Malaya and probably the Philippines. Completely unanticipated was the prospect that Japan would attack east, as well.

The US Fleet's Pearl Harbor base was reachable by an aircraft carrier force, and the Japanese Navy secretly sent one across the Pacific with greater aerial striking power than had ever been seen on the World's oceans. Its planes hit just before 8AM on 7 December. Within a short time five of eight battleships at Pearl Harbor were sunk or sinking, with the rest damaged. Several other ships and most Hawaii-based combat planes were also knocked out and over 2400 Americans were dead. Soon after, Japanese planes eliminated much of the American air force in the Philippines, and a Japanese Army was ashore in Malaya.

These great Japanese successes, achieved without prior diplomatic formalities, shocked and enraged the previously divided American people into a level of purposeful unity hardly seen before or since. For the next five months, until the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May, Japan's far-reaching offensives proceeded untroubled by fruitful opposition. American and Allied morale suffered accordingly. Under normal political circumstances, an accommodation might have been considered.

However, the memory of the "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor fueled a determination to fight on. Once the Battle of Midway in early June 1942 had eliminated much of Japan's striking power, that same memory stoked a relentless war to reverse her conquests and remove her, and her German and Italian allies, as future threats to World peace. (info from Naval Historical Center, photo from National Archives)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

2007: girls dominate Siemens science awards

Girls won top honors for the first time in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, one of the nation’s most coveted student science awards, which were announced Monday at New York University.

Janelle Schlossberger and Amanda Marinoff, both 17 and seniors at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School on Long Island, split the first prize — a $100,000 scholarship — in the team category for creating a molecule that helps block the reproduction of drug-resistant tuberculosis bacteria.

Isha Himani Jain, 16, (in photo) a senior at Freedom High School in Bethlehem, PA, placed first in the individual category for her studies of bone growth in zebra fish, whose tail fins grow in spurts, similar to the way children’s bones do. She will get a $100,000 scholarship.

Alicia Darnell, 17, a senior at Pelham Memorial High School in Pelham, NY, won second place and a $50,000 scholarship in the individual category for research that identified genetic defects that could play a role in the development of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The Siemens competition was first held in 1998. James Whaley, president of the Siemens Foundation, which oversees the competition for Siemens AG, a global electronics and engineering company, said the competition results send a great message to young women.

This year, more than 1,600 students nationwide entered the Siemens competition. After several rounds of judging, 20 finalists were chosen to present their projects at NYU and to vie for scholarships ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. Eleven of the finalists were girls. It was the first year that girls outnumbered boys in the final round. Most finalists attend public school.

On Sunday, the students gave 12-minute presentations of their projects, filled with explanations about Herceptin resistance (when breast cancer patients with HER2-positive tumors do not respond to the drug Herceptin) and FtsZ inhibitors (experiments on a specific protein that could lead to a new treatment for tuberculosis).

One of the most popular was by three home-schooled girls from Pennsylvania and New Jersey: Caroline Lang, 16; Rebecca Ehrhardt, 15; and Naomi Collipp, 16. They developed a “Burgercam” monitoring system, designed to determine when E. coli bacteria in hamburgers have been safely eliminated by measuring the shrinkage of each patty when fully cooked.

Several hundred hamburgers later, the girls took home fifth place and $20,000 in scholarship money. The "Hamburger Girls” have been friends since they were toddlers and had stayed in touch through a group for home-schooled children. “They were concerned it wasn’t sophisticated enough, but they wanted to try,” said Rebecca’s mother, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt, a physicist.

Three-quarters of the finalists have a parent who is a scientist. The parents of Alicia Darnell, who won second place, are medical researchers at Rockefeller University, and her maternal grandparents were scientists, too. Isha Himani Jain, who took home the top individual prize, published her first research paper with her father, a professor at Lehigh University, when she was 10 or 11; her mother is a doctor.

The Siemens Foundation arranged some sightseeing for the finalists — an outing to “The Lion King,” bowling at Chelsea Piers and a group picture on the JumboTron in Times Square.

“It was the most fun I’ve ever had,” said Alexander C. Huang, 17, a senior at Plano Senior High School in Plano, Tex., who earned a $10,000 scholarship for research on combating jet lag. He said he enjoyed the opportunity to be surrounded by like-minded students. “They’re even a little bit nerdier than me.” (info & photo from The New York Times)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

1878: first AT&T pay telephone
2008: last AT&T pay telephone

The first public pay telephone was set up in 1878, just two years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone. The first coin-operated pay phone was installed in 1889 in Hartford.

For decades after the payphone's invention, many Americans relied on them because of the expense and difficulty in obtaining reliable home service. Only after World War II did the telephone become a household necessity.

Payphones found a place in popular culture. Clark Kent, alter ego of comic-book hero Superman, often changed into his Superman uniform in phone booths. Older movies often showed reporters rushing into phone booths to report breaking stories. In the late 1950s, college students competed to see how many could fit into a booth. (The record is 25, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.)

Since 1998, however, the number of payphones in service has shrunk to about one million from 2.6 million. The main reason has been the proliferation of cellphones. By late 2007, there were almost 251 million cellphone customers nationwide among a US population of 301 million.

For many years, AT&T's Western Electric division was the nation's major manufacturer of payphones. In 1996, AT&T spun off its phone equipment manufacturing and sales operation as "Lucent Technologies" (recently merged into Alcatel of France). In 1997, Lucent sold its payphone business to a competitor, Elcotel. (some info from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, December 3, 2007

approx. 1880: first Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever is one of the most popular family dogs; but Goldens did not help cavemen chase away their enemies, or help medieval shepards tend their flocks. The Golden history goes back just about 150 years.

During the nineteenth century, there was an ongoing quest among the British gentry for the perfect hunting dog, and many popular breeds have their roots in these efforts.

The origin of the Golden Retriever lies in the careful work of Sir Dudley Marjoribanks (later the first Lord Tweedmouth).

In 1865, Lord Tweedmouth purchased a yellow retriever "Nous" from an unregistered litter of otherwise black Wavy-Coated Retrievers. Nous was later bred with "Belle", a Tweed Water Spaniel, and the resulting litter produced four bitches that were instrumental to his breeding program. One of them, "Cowslip," was bred back to for over twenty years. Over the years, several outcrosses, to black Wavy Coated Retrievers, an Irish Setter, and later a sandy-colored Bloodhound occurred as he sought to improve and fix his new breed. The coat textures of the Goldens of this time reportedly varied, as did the color, which ranged from fox red to light cream.

The Kennel Club of England accepted the first Goldens for registration in 1903. At the time, they were registered as "Flat Coats -- Golden". By 1904 the first Golden placement at a field trial was recorded. In 1911, they were recognized as a separate breed, at first called "Yellow or Golden Retrievers," but within several years the "Yellow" was dropped from their name.

The first Golden in Canada seems to have been brought over by Hon. Archie Marjoribanks in 1881. The Canadian Kennel Club first recognized the breed in 1927. Goldens have been in the US since about 1890, with the earliest recorded dog being Hon. Archie Marjoribanks's "Lady" in 1894. The first AKC registered Golden was Robert Appleton's Lomberdale Blondin. There was no serious interest in them until about 1930 when Magoffin's import, CH Speedwell Pluto, captured widespread interest. The Golden Retriever was subsequently recognized by the AKC in 1932. At that time, they were a rare breed.

In 1938, a group of Golden Retriever fans formed the Golden Retriever Club of America, which is today among the largest of the parent breed clubs in the AKC, with over 5000 members.

Dogs in general are pack-oriented animals, and need to interact with their pack on a regular basis to be secure. Goldens in particular have been bred through the years to make an excellent companion for people -- whether it is to sit quietly in a duck blind until it is time to retrieve, or as a service dog, or in any other capacity.

Because of this, they need to interact with their people. Although they enjoy the outdoors, even in cold and wet weather, they would rather sleep in a bed with humans, than in a dog house. Goldens are particularly forgiving dogs and will allow you to make many mistakes while still wanting nothing more than to please and be acknowledged for it with a scratch behind the ear. As a testament to their desire to please, the first three dogs to obtain Obedience Trial Championships were Golden Retrievers.

Because Goldens are such people-oriented dogs, it's important that they live WITH their owners. It is imperative that your Golden be regularly included in family activities. Once fully grown, they are a robust dog and will enjoy walking, hiking, jogging, hunting, swimming, fetching, traveling by car, etc. They have a strong irrepressable urge to retrieve. If no birds are falling from the sky, they will grab and clamp their strong jaws around shoes, underwear, pot-holders, socks, gloves, even Brillo soap pads. They are always ready and willing to eat, and are good climbers and jumpers. (Hunter, the dog in the picture above, has jumped onto a pool table, and climbed a five-foot ladder.)

As is common with the retriever breeds, Goldens are slow to fully mature both mentally and physically. At a year of age, they will have their full height, but their full weight will be another year or two in coming. Mentally, they remain puppies for a long time (up to two or three years of age) and many retain a very playful and clownish personality for most of their lives.

They seem to smile; and love to illicit smiles and laughs from people. Goldens are very affectionate, and will stand up to hug and lick family members, and even first-time visitors. Goldens will bark at strange people, vehicles and dogs; but if a burglar gets into your house, your Golden is more likely to play with him than to guard your family jewels. Goldens have great empathy, and know when people need cheering up; and can easily turn tears into laughs. Goldens love physical contact with people, including hand/paw shaking, hand/paw holding, hugging and rubbing.

Goldens do have a few disadvantages. Be prepared for clumps of golden fur all over your floor, golden hairs on dark clothing, and destroyed pot-holders. Goldens will eat anything within their reach (which includes the center of your dining table), and will sometimes retrieve disgusting things, and roll around in deer crap. (some info from